Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tree islands

Atlantic Boulevard is a major east-west thoroughfare through the northern part of Broward County, starting out as a few lanes east of the Intracoastal and soon fanning out as land opens up westward. A1A is our coastal highway, a thin band of asphalt on the interminable barrier island between the Atlantic and the mainland with nowhere to grow, lined on both sides by countless condo towers where occupants live at the edge of the endless sea. Curiously, Coral Ridge Drive in Coral Springs at the west end of Atlantic Blvd, far inland with no hint of salty air, has neither coral nor a ridge. Apart from occasional tree islands, it is historical River of Grass territory, long ago drained and dried to develop the desirable community we see today.

Route 42 is dedicated to Atlantic Blvd, plying the relatively short distance from A1A to Coral Ridge Drive and only diverting to service the Northeast Transit Center in Pompano. On a Sunday morning, this trip takes about 45 minutes. A weekday afternoon may take twice as long due to the crippling congestion which gathers at predictable hours. It was my good fortune to have it on Sunday mornings.

"My mom died last week. She was 91." Marty announced the sad news almost as soon as he entered the bus. "She just went to sleep and didn't wanna wake up. She was 91. She was tired. My two sisters died early this year. My brother's been missing five days - I don't know if he's in the hospital or in jail. He has the key to the house so I've been sleeping in the garage, sweltering."
Marty only speaks in one voice: bus voice. That's at a volume the entire bus can hear. He had some internet fame a few years back courtesy of then-local YouTuber Vitaly who funded an extreme makeover for this sympathetic character. Now, he's back hustling on the streets (but never a bother on the bus). Small in stature and vulnerable in spirit, it is impossible to dislike the man. He's out here struggling against the odds, and goes to pains not to get in anyone's way when doing it. While I get stymied by a wonky wheelchair ramp, Marty accepts everything with gratitude.

After the transit center, my pal Al stops in for a brief trip. Next, the Indian girl with enviably long black hair boards on her way to work, at her usual stop under the oak trees.

Out west, approaching University Drive I could see my mature friend in her distinctive ball cap waving from the median. Flag stops are a no-no as they encourage unsafe crossing through traffic, so I couldn't acknowledge the request. Fortunately we were servicing the stop anyway for a crowd exiting, which gave her time to make it over.
   'You trust all these crazy drivers?' I asked, thankful she'd made it through with her labored walk.
"No! But I didn't want to wait for you to come back around." The heat was getting to her and the cool cabin of the bus was too enticing. I was kind of glad she did, since the mechanic worked on the wheelchair ramp at the layover and it saved her needlessly melting by the street.

Over by State Road 7 another elderly passenger boards, holding out his money to show he's a little short on fare.
"Next time, I promise," he said with conviction.
   'Yeah, I know your promises.' It was a snarky response I immediately regretted, and resolved not to repeat.
"I only work one day a week now." His depressing admission made his attempts to pay his way admirable. He was an honorable man unprepared to let go of that virtue.

A few minutes later, we pulled up to Powerline Road, where a far younger man - in his 20s - was waiting. His arms were tucked against his chest, squeezing a drink and loose papers. A cigarette pack balanced on his forearm while fumbling for bills in his wallet and change in his left hand.
"Oh man, I got some big bills, but only this for a pass." Again, a passenger making a fair effort to pay the fare.
   'That'll work.'
"You're awesome, thanks!"
He had more change than he thought but held on to it, whispering "That's for a drink."
On the return trip, he was waiting where he'd exited, this time with a bicycle.
"I had just enough money for my medication." He informed me, picking up where we left off.
   'Oh yeah? So you'll be ok? That's good.'
"God bless you." He thanked me again and offered a fist bump.

Even tree islands aren't isolated, connected by life-giving waters acting as avenues of travel for fauna and peoples now forgotten. Try as we may in our time to plant ourselves at a distance from unpleasant interaction, the river of Life feeds our roots and unites us with each other.

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